Nicks, redness, stink, sting: These side effects have always made hair removal a necessary evil—emphasis on evil. But this season, good prevails: The latest advances are making the dreaded process not only easier, but even skin-friendly. "In the past, there was little thought placed on skin condition, and the main goal was just to remove hair," says Anne Chapas, M.D., director of Union Square Laser Dermatology and a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Medical Center. Read on to learn how to say sayonara to stubble and get softer, healthier skin at the same time.
The Technique: Shaving
The latest: New razors come with improved lubricating bars that help cut down on irritation (and shaving cream). The Venus & Olay Razor ($11, at drugstores) contains glycerin and petrolatum, a combo found in Olay's body lotions, which "helps condition the skin, so it'll look and feel better," says Baltimore dermatologist Noelle S. Sherber, M.D. And the Schick Hydro Silk razor, ($10, at drugstores), emits a seaweed-rich serum that "helps moisturize and provides anti-inflammatory effects."
Lasts for: One day—then pesky stubble appears Best for: Legs—you can cover a lot of ground fast. Get it right: "Skin needs to be wet for seven minutes to soften the hair," says Boston dermatologist Ranella Hirsch, M.D. (Any longer and your skin might swell, making it harder to get a close shave, says Sherber.)
The Technique: Waxing The latest: Honey waxes of the past weren't so sweet for your skin. They were hydrating but sticky—and, says Sherber, "the stickier the wax, the more it tugs on the skin, which leads to more irritation and pain." Hard, resin-based waxes are the smarter choice: "They wrap only the hair, rather than sticking to—and yanking off—your fragile skin. Plus, some have skin-calming lavender and azulene," says Cindy Barshop, owner of Completely Bare Spas in New York City and Dallas. Try Gigi Brazilian Body Hard Wax ($18, sallybeauty.com).
Lasts for: Four to six weeks Best for: Any area—especially the bikini line and underarms. "Puberty makes the hair in these areas grow in thick and coarse, which makes it more prone to ingrowns," says Sherber. When you pull out hair from the root—as opposed to shaving it off—it grows back straighter, slashing the risk that it will curl back in and form a bump. Get it right: Ditch abrasive scrubs and acids (alpha hydroxy, lactic glycolic, and salicylic) one week before waxing. "If you don't, you risk tearing the skin, because these exfoliants can make skin more fragile," says Sherber. The ouch factor is higher just before your period too, so time your treatment midcycle or take two 220-milligram naproxen capsules an hour before waxing to decrease pain.
The Technique: Depilatories The latest: Older depilatories tried (and failed) to mask the stench of the active ingredient, thioglycolate, with perfume-y notes. But new formulas are less offensive: "Special molecules are attached to the thioglycolate, making it so large that your nose can't detect it," says Jim Hammer, a cosmetic chemist. Try Sally Hansen Pure Scent-Sation Hair Remover Cream for Body ($10, at drugstores), which is also infused with the anti-inflammatories bisabolol, vitamin E, and aloe to help prevent redness.
Lasts for: Approximately three to five days Best for: Bump-prone areas like the bikini line. "Razors leave sharp tips that can push back into the skin—depilatories don't," says Chapas. Get it right: Look for ones containing calcium—not potassium—thioglycolate. Though it takes a bit longer to work, it's gentler on the skin, says Bernadette Devaney, a manager of skin-care research and development at Nair.
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